The End of Adventure

adventure courage defiance

I also wouldn't have discovered a spiritual guide/guitar teacher, volunteered at a refugee daycare school, gone to a crazy Arabic wedding (where I was related in some distant way to all 200 people there), or talked a cab into driving me across the Jordanian desert from Petra to Amman, a four hour drive, at midnight.

Just because you're studying or living abroad doesn't mean you're being adventurous, especially if you're operating inside some larger institution or program. In fact, most of our lives nowadays are within the safe confines of some kind of institutional structure that sets the boundaries for our behavior and defines our experience of the world.

Living In the Lines

A friend of mine shared this deeply disturbing and powerfully inspiring video. It is about how our culture denies us independence and how we never develop into independent adults anymore. After the structured morality and care-giving we receive in childhood, we hop straight into another set of structures on how to behave, how to live and perceive life and our world, and how to think: school, college, corporate work environments, religious institutions, political parties, the scientific-governmental-capitalistic morality of profit equals good.

Even if you wanted to step out of bounds, you'd have to go a long, long way. There are even institutions for fringe elements and anarchists. That's the only explanation for why so called 'rebel' groups like hipsters, hippies, and goths have always had an identifying set of behaviors and appearance cues.

What would it take to really step out of bounds?

A is reading a book entitled, Magic and Mystery in Tibet, written by one of the last foreigners to explore Tibet before the Chinese invasion. There were no roads there, no travel itinaries, and no tourist agencies making sure she would see all the important sites. She just went, hounded some Lamas into teaching her Tibetan Buddhism, and wandered the Himalayas.

Who does stuff like that anymore?! We almost think it's illegal to JUST GO and see what happens.

Our Perpetual Childhood

I makes me profoundly sad that there is no more room for independent exploration anymore. There are very few places where there aren't roads, buses, or tour guides. Someone is always happy to tell you how to experience their country, for a small fee. Even in our personal lives, there are gurus and experts telling us how to do everything from exercising to eating to keeping a journal. The internet is full of life coaches and there are countless systems for self-actualization.

Of course, we don't have to take the bait. We do not need to take the easy way out. Most of us, however, are afraid of being wrong. We are afraid to waste our vacation by exploring without a guide, or we are afraid we will hurt ourselves if we workout without a trainer. Nobody wants to mess up their business situation, so few people take a real risk and start a business. Nobody wants to mess with their health, so we're content to just follow the official guidelines instead of learning things for ourselves by actually trying them.

The result is that we've lost our intuition and our instinct. We cannot trust ourselves anymore, because we don't actually know how to.

In this world, you never, ever have to take a step in anything without guidance and instruction. You can always find a 'right way' to do everything.

But is that really a good thing?

I would say that it is not a good thing to always let yourself lean on someone's prior experience. First of all, their experience cannot apply to your particular situation 100%. Unless you are willing to actually customize it and extrapolate from it (which contradicts the need to seek it out in the first place), it won't actually carry you through the trials you'll face on your journey, whether that is starting a business, getting in shape, or writing a book.

Secondly, always looking for someone else's approval is a profoundly childish way to approach life. Children do it all the time. They run up to a new toy or friend, but stop short, glancing back at their mom to make sure it's okay. When they detect her approval, they go ahead and explore. Adults who do that, however, either by looking everything up on the internet or constantly checking in with their superiors, become reliant on external validation to accomplish anything.

I have been in that situation. You would think a twenty-something young man would be able to make his own decisions in a relationship, but for a distressingly long time, I called my parents for advice on everything. I didn't realize how that contributed to my relationship failures until I broke the habit and noticed my girlfriends doing the same thing. I felt like I was dating their mothers, not them, especially because they could never trust their own feelings. They ended up doing things they didn't want to, because their parents' advice couldn't be 100% tailored to the current situation. I don't know how common this used to be, but it seems like it is becoming more common among people in my generation.

Outside of relationships, I've known people who would freeze up when they couldn't 'check in' with someone or something, people whose knowledge was basically a carbon-copy of Wikipedia articles, who thought along lines preset by their internet communities, and changed their ideas as new trends came and went, never noticing how they were simply a cork floating along in a river, going wherever the current decided to take them, never setting their own direction.

We all have opinions and perceptions that are not our own which we would not have adopted if we'd taken the time to assess a situation with our own ideas and judgement. Sometimes we have held these ideas for so long--and seen them challenged so infrequently--that we don't even realize they are there. This is why travel is such an eye-opener for people who manage to immerse themselves in a host culture; they suddenly see an entire society of people with totally different assumptions about how the world works. This leads them to reassess the basis for their own preconceptions.

Nobody Else Can Tell You What Matters

I do not think there is any one 'right way' to do anything really significant in life. There is no ideal model of health that applies to every human being, though fitness magazines would have you believe otherwise.

There is no formula to writing a book. Every book is different. You embark on the journey, see where it takes you, and adjust accordingly.

There is no formula to starting a business. You just have to jump in and go for it.

There is no formula for spiritual seeking.

There is no formula for how to raise a family.

If you know the whole path from start to finish, and you're following a well-worn trail, you will not derive the true benefit of your journey, which is always as much spiritual growth as material accomplishment. If all you do is the latter, when the situation changes, you will find yourself helpless, because you will not have learned anything more than how to follow directions.

There is no formula for adventure.

And that is the point.